Tipping the Velvet


Writers: Laura Wade


Show Information

Based on the Play/Book/Film
Sarah Water's Tipping the Velvet (1998 novel)
Number of Acts
First Produced
Comedy, Drama
Multiple Settings, Period
Time & Place
London, England, 1887
Cast Size
Ideal for
College/University, Large Cast, Professional Theatre, Regional Theatre, Star Vehicle Female
Casting Notes
Mostly female cast
Includes young adult, adult, mature adult, late teen characters


Laura Wade’s adaptation of Sarah Waters’ best-selling novel, Tipping the Velvet, tells the story of Nancy Astley, an oyster girl from Kent. Nancy goes to her local music hall every night, desperate to catch the rose of the headline act, Kitty Butler, the girl who wears trousers. When the two women meet, the spark is immediate and Nancy follows Kitty to London, giddy with desire and yearning for excitement. Nancy falls deeply in love with Kitty and the couple become a successful, cross-dressing music hall double act. However, Nancy’s heart is broken when Kitty marries their manager, Walter, and chooses respectability over love. Nancy falls into a whirlwind of adventures across the city, first becoming a ‘rent boy’ in Soho Square and then being taken on as the kept lover of Diana, a wealthy widow with unusual sexual appetites. When she is thrown out by Diana after sleeping with her maid, Nancy is rescued by Florence, an east end socialist who knows the underground lesbian scene well. Florence falls for Nancy, but wonders whether Nancy will ever let her guard down and open her heart. Nancy’s journey of self-discovery is overseen by the Chairman, a ring-master, conductor, and MC all rolled into one. He fills in the gaps for the audience and urges Nancy to keep the drama flowing. However, ultimately, Nancy must take charge of her own life and find her place in the world with Florence by her side.

Editor’s Note: This play contains scenes of a sexual nature.

Lead Characters

Tipping the Velvet guide sections